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In two to three hours, an average collection time for one location, Sites and two or three team members might collect as many as 300 to 500 insect specimens. "I think you'd be shocked at how much is under the water," he says. "Insects live on the water, in the water, suspended from the surface of the water and in the sediments below. It's a diverse and abundant fauna."

And thanks to Sites, the known diversity keeps growing. Between 2001 and 2004, he participated in a National Science Foundation project in which he surveyed aquatic insects in national parks in northern Thailand, an area with phenomenal biodiversity to which he had never before had access. Greg Courtney, an Iowa State University entomologist who specializes in aquatic Diptera, or two-winged flies, served as the principal investigator for the project. He invited Sites to participate because of Sites' experience in Thailand and his many contacts there.

"Having local participants in a project is always important, especially when you're working in a place like Thailand," says Courtney. "One of the things that has impressed me with Bob and his students is that they've been able to go to areas that we thought had been well-surveyed, and they still manage to find new things. One reason for that is he has had students from Thailand helping him, so it's easy for him to get around and for the students to take him to interesting places where others have not been able to get in the past."

WATER BUGS: An array of aquatic true bugs, also known as aquatic Heteroptera, at MU’s Enns Entomology Museum.

Sites and his students are still sorting through the thousands of specimens they collected and kept. Already the count of true bug species never before discovered has passed 60.

For Sites, the most exciting find came from some rocks behind Huay Yai waterfall in Phu Pan National Park. There he picked up some bugs that belong not only to an undescribed species, the lowest taxonomic classification, but also to an undescribed genus, the next step up on the taxonomic ladder. He found three more species in the genus elsewhere in Thailand and two more species in a trip he took this year to Vietnam, another country in the Indo-Burma Hotspot.

"That's cool," Sites says, explaining he has never before discovered a new genus. "As you ascend taxonomically, it's more and more uncommon to find a new one."

To the untrained eye, an aquatic bug from one species generally looks identical to an aquatic bug from another species in the same genus, but Sites knows where to look for differences.

"In many groups of insects, the male genitalia are very distinctive," he says. "So you have to dissect out the male genitalia and look to see if they're different." Don't worry. "They don't feel a thing," Sites adds.

Sites shares his discoveries with other scientists by publishing descriptions in peer-reviewed entomological journals, and he always sends specimens back to universities in the host country.

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